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Congo's Ebola outbreak is getting worse due to simmering war

Data: Ministry of Health DRC; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo showed a recent spike, despite concerted efforts by public health workers and international organizations, mainly due active pockets of community resistance to vaccination and the dangers posed to health care workers in active conflict zones that halt or delay key treatment measures.

What's new: DRC's Ministry of Health reports that, as of October 10, the cases of confirmed and probable infections spiked to 200, with 90 confirmed deaths and 26 suspected cases under investigation. However, the World Health Organization warns these numbers are "likely underestimated."

WHO yesterday issued a statement:

"These rising trends are likely underestimated given expected delays in case reporting, the ongoing detection of sporadic cases, and security concerns which limit contact tracing and investigation of alerts."

Political strife: The conflict in DRC stems from the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which has led to "at least 70 armed groups fighting in the eastern region of the country," according to an editorial in The Lancet.

  • And, the BBC has a DRC profile, which includes a timetable of the conflict, background on the political situation, and covers the elections which were delayed twice since 2016 and are scheduled for this December.

Anti-vaxx movement: The ministry describes its continual campaign to inform skeptical citizens to get vaccinated and to follow the protocols for this disease, which remains infectious in the body after death.

  • In one case this week, the family of a person who died from Ebola stole the body on its way to be safely buried and then used a mob of young people in the community to forcibly keep police away.
  • This particular situation was later resolved — a community meeting was held, the body was retrieved, and several family members said they planned to get vaccinated — but it demonstrates some of the elements the ministry is fighting against.

Meanwhile, The Lancet editorial warns that the challenges faced by DRC may be an indication of the changing nature of war in being a more protracted affair. Per the editorial:

"Violence and conflict are compounders of public health crises. What is happening in DR Congo means that a fragile political situation, a complex virus, and a raging conflict puts the whole world under threat."

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